When Elizabeth Murray joined the Harvard class of 2003, her story became a national sensation. She lived on the New York City streets for years after being born to drug-addicted parents and eventually found inspiration in education after her mother's AIDS-related death - a story that was turned into the Emmy-nominated Lifetime movie, Homeless to Harvard.
Ultimately though, Murray ended up dropping out of Harvard after just one semester, returning and then leaving again - a path that incoming freshman Steven-Vaughn Lewis hopes to avoid.
Vaughn-Lewis, whose story recently captured the attention of many across the nation after an early July feature in The Philadelphia Inquirer, grew up in and out of foster care, which was punctured by a short stint of homelessness.
"My childhood was very different from most," he said. "It was completely unstable."
After moving around - from Los Angeles to Philadelphia and many cities in between - Vaughn-Lewis and his brother were eventually adopted by his grandmother, who gave him "the stability necessary to continue [my] life," he said.
But his new neighborhood was stricken with poverty and more than a dose of violence out there for young men on the streets. His grandmother helped keep him off the streets by giving him a curfew and making sure he had a job.
"My grandmother ... cut me out of that [violent] environment," he said. "She didn't let me go out and hang with the boys, so I studied a lot instead."
Although Vaughn-Lewis wasn't always enrolled in elementary schools, after attending public school near his grandmother's house he transferred in the sixth grade to Julia R. Masterman Middle School, which Newsweek rated the 74th best public school in the nation in 2006 - the highest rank of any public school in Pennsylvania.
At Masterman, Vaughn-Lewis was inspired by his biology and chemistry teachers. He went on to conduct research at Penn on the relationship between smell and memories during his sophomore year of high school. The research won him a gold medal in the George Washington Carver Science Fair and inspired him to apply to Penn.
"I didn't realize that it was an Ivy League or selective [at the time]," said Vaughn-Lewis. "But it was a college in Philadelphia, and I wanted to go."
And Vaughn-Lewis also expressed high hopes for his life after Penn, describing a desire to become a surgeon.
During his senior year of high school, he spent two weeks shadowing doctors in the Temple University Hospital trauma bay and saw a high volume of gun-shot victims.
"The victims were close to my age, some even younger," he said. "I thought, wow, these people are just like me." It was then that Vaugh-Lewis realized he could help people.
And despite the recent press, Vaughn-Lewis remains humble about his story. He said that he is "shocked" and "thankful" that people even took an interest. He said the key to his success, though, was simply perseverance.
"My advice would be just not to give up ... if you want something in life you're going to have to work hard to get it," he said. "Just do the best you possibly can in everything, and eventually things will start going in your favor."Comments powered by Disqus
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